Whole Wheat Crackers

Its a great feeling making your own crackers. You know exactly what is in them, and you can customize them to your tastes and nutrition requirements. I like to use whole wheat flour in just about anything I use flour in. Sometimes I question what “whole wheat” means when it is advertised on packages, and I dislike not recognizing ingredients on the packages of my food. So I started making my own crackers. Simple, yet more delicious than any cracker I can remember. I believe it was because I made them and I knew they were good for me, and I could season them as I pleased.

I haven’t made these crackers in quite a while. They are a rather simple creation, but unless you have a large oven and lots of counter space it can take a bit of time. It’d compare it to making Christmas cookies. Rolling them out, cutting the shapes, decorating a bit if desired, and rotating trays in the oven every 12 or so minutes. Its simple, but you need to have the time and patience.

Crackers - DoughCrackers - Rolled with Seeds

Although they may take some time, if you have a free Saturday, or evening with your friends or family and feel like getting flour all over the place, I recommend giving it a try. Its not hard. If you’ve got it in you, make a lot and store them in an airtight container for later. They’re great for dipping and spreading all kinds of delicious things like hummus, cheeses, tapenades. These make me feel good about snacking.

Whole Wheat Crackers

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or what you prefer)
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup water
Optional toppings: sea salt, sesame seeds, black pepper, lime zest, rosemary, hot paprika, zaatar, grated cheese

Directions:
Sift together the salt and flour. Whisk in the olive oil until absorbed. Add water and mix until all together. Turn out onto a clean, floured surface and kneed for a minute. Roll into a ball and cover with a clean dish towl and let the dough rest for a half an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Roll out the dough until thin as a Christmas cookie, or thiner if you prefer an extra crispy cracker.

Sprinkle with desired toppings and press them into the dough gently. Cut into desired shapes. Using a fork, dot dough with a few holes (to prevent bubbles from forming, if you mind that), and it also makes it look pretty. Transfer carefully to a baking sheet, and bake about 10-12 minutes until golden.

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Olive Tapenade with Sun Dried Tomatoes

My favorite foods tend to be something you can spread on bread. This is definitely one of them, next to hummus, slabs of good cheese, olive oil, tomato jam, ect. Its really simple to make, much less expensive than the jarred stuff. Try it!

Olive Tapenade

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
12 kalamata olives in brine, drained
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 springs rosemary
salt to taste
olive oil to taste

Directions:
Peel garlic and add to bowl. Toss in a pinch of salt and, using a pestle (or back of a spoon), grind the garlic into a paste. Pit and mince finely the olives. Mince the tomatoes into a paste. Toss together in the bowl. Mince the rosemary and add to the bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to taste (I used just a little, about 1 tablespoon). Salt to taste.

Tip: let it sit for a day or two so the flavors can blend well. Although it is still delicious immediately (I usually don’t wait).  Serve over toasted bread.

Pan Tumaca

We go to this Catalonian restaurant quite a bit — La Bocaria. It is fabulous in all ways: ambiance, staff, to the menu, the sangria. The prices generally are not what I would call fabulous, although there are a handful of affordable nutritious dishes that will fill your belly without breaking your wallet (although we don’t usually get them). We go there primarily for the sangria, and on very special occasions, the lechon. We love the dimly-lit, old-fashioned feel of the place, and Oscar is always happy to see us and seats us in our usual spot. On days when we are not too hungry and only want something to munch on while enjoying our refreshing fortified beverage, we order pan tumaca (this is my strategy for saving money). They always bring a small portion of it when we order the drinks, but the two tiny slices just tease my taste buds and I have to order another portion.

The first time we tried it we were baffled over what exactly was on the bread. The bite of the garlic was intensely clear. We could tell there was tomato in some form, but that was not so obvious.  It was almost jelly-like, but thin and not sweet. Finally we asked the waiter if he knew what it was. Just like the secret to the sangria, he gave it to us straight and simple. I wonder if the owners know he gives away their prized recipes…. perhaps its not that big of a secret,but in our household this allows us to transform lame bread into a masterpiece we don’t want to stop eating.

This is also where Hec took me the night he proposed. !

Pan Tumaca

Ingredients:

  • Bread, generally something dense and crusty, although whatever you have will work.
  • Garlic cloves, peeled. One per large slice of bread.
  • Ripe tomato, cut in half and seeded
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:
1. Toast the bread
2. Rub the peeled garlic clove over the bread. It will dissappear as you rub.
3. Rub the tomato flesh on the bread until it turns pinkish.
4. Drizzle with olive oil, as much as you want.
5. Salt to taste.

This is a great appetizer, and great for when you have guests. Let them do it themselves (unless you want to keep the secret to yourself). They’ll enjoy it.

A Mediterranean Meal: Babaganoush, Balsamic Tomatoes, and Lemon Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas

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A wonderfully light and well-balanced, yet rich Mediterranean meal that might cost you a good $30.00 at any restaurant in Chicago serving similar stuff. And its good for you. Beat that.

Babaganoush - Shriveled EggplantBabaganoush - Finished

Babaganoush:
2 Eggplans
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1.5 tablespoons tahini (I heard suggested once my Mark Bitten to use peanutbutter as a sub, but never tried it)
Juice of half a lime
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika

Directions:
1. Roast the eggplant. There are many methods for this. Grill it (30 minutes, rotating), bake it (30 minutes), roast it in the pan (30 something minutes, also rotating), and I’ve even heard of microwaving it. Use the method easiest to you. The times are estimates. You want it (if you are grilling or roasting in a pan) charred on the outside, and heavy and completely shirveled. It will look very sad compared to its fresh form, but thats what you want.

2. Scrape out the insides, it should come easily. Don’t use the charred skin. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree in your blender or hand mixer until very very smooth. Fix salt and hot paprika to your taste. Serve with crackers or toasted pita bread.

Marinated Tomatoes

Tomatoes:
6 Roma tomatoes (or any that look really good and ripe)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Basil and Thyme, about a teaspoon of each
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions: Chop and seed tomatoes. Mix with all ingredients and let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

Lemony Chickpeas

Lemony Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas:
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
1/4 cup freshly shredded salty cheese (parmesan or romano is good)
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
Salt
Fresh ground pepper (be generous here, it’s important. Maybe 1 teaspoon?)
A drizzle of olive oil if you desire.

Directions: Roast the chickpeas in the oven or in a pan until browned on the outside. Let cool to room temperature. Add lime, salt, and finely grated cheese, and toss. Cover generously with black pepper.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

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This is a simple, healthy, Mediterranean-style salad which can be served as an entrée or as an accompaniment. The fresh ingredients stand out for themselves, so there is little need for fancy culinary IMG_2216skills. It looks like a work of art, yet it is so simple. I would have added some nice fresh tomatoes, perhaps cherry, if I had had them, or also feta cheese.

Mediterranean-Style Chickpea Salad


Ingredients:
2 cups chickpeas, soaked, cooked, and patted dry (or 1 can, drained).
1 red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, roasted, seeded, and peeled*
10-12 fresh olives with their pits
24 cloves garlic, roasted** (more or less to your taste)
Handful of  either fresh cilantro, basil, parsley and mint (I used a mixture of all), torn.
Olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lime

Directions:
Make sure the garbanzos are patted dry. Heat some olive oil in a pan on high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beans. Sauté until the outsides become golden brown, and crispy in a few areas. Then add the chopped red onion and remove from heat. You may cook it all the way through, or leave it raw. I like it with a bit of a bite, but wanted to soften it a bit for this recipe. Heating it slightly in this way will start the cooking process but leave it with some of its sharpness. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Add a few glugs of olive oil, the lime juice, zest, and fresh herbs. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Let the mixture marinate for at least an hour. The longer it sits the better it tastes, in my opinion. I like this at room temperature, but it is good both hot and cold as well.

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*Roast the bell pepper at 400ºF for about 10 minutes, or until the pepper has become soft. Seal in a ziplock bag and let cool. Once cooled, remove from bag and the skin should easily peel off.


**Roast the garlic at 400ºF wrapped in foil, drizzled with olive oil for about 45 minutes until soft.